Monday, April 4, 2016

Is Traditional Advertising Dead?

Traditional advertising might be dead. Marketers have been talking about the “death” of traditional advertising as early as the late 1990s, when it became obvious that the Internet was here to stay and the digital revolution was upon us. But despite various claims of traditional advertising going away forever, it’s still managed to stick around as a viable marketing medium, and there are even proponents who argue that traditional advertising will never go away.

I won’t claim to settle this debate once and for all in this article (because nobody, despite what they might tell you, can accurately predict the future). Instead, I want to explore some critical considerations for the state and future of traditional advertising, including what a “death” might actually entail, and reasons for and against the possibility for traditional advertising’s true death. Then, I’ll come to the most objective conclusion I can, regardless of whether or not it’s a singularly definitive answer.

What Is “Traditional” Advertising?

The first problem we face is one of definition. By one standard, “traditional” advertising refers to the content of a message, rather than its format. Under this structure, a traditional ad is one that makes a clear attempt to get a user to buy a product, with no other purpose. Digital advertising could count as “traditional,” for example, if it used a similar means of positioning to its target audience. By other definitions, “traditional” advertising refers to a medium, such as radio, billboards, or television commercials.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll lean toward the former definition, as it has the widest reach. However, it does offer some blurry lines; for example, a landing page asking for personal information in exchange for a whitepaper download could be construed as a traditional ad or a form of modern digital marketing depending on its design, intent, and positioning.

How Could It Die?

It’s nearly impossible to define death in terms of absolutes, or in terms of achieving some numerical threshold. For example, most would agree that VHS tapes are a “dead” format in the modern era; however, there are still plenty of people who watch VHS tapes regularly, and there’s no definitive point at which VHS usage “died.” Was it the point at which DVD players outnumbered VHS players? If so, traditional marketing may have already died, based on spending statistics.

As there’s no concrete marker for death, I’ll generally describe the “death” of traditional advertising as occurring when less than half of all companies pursue a form of traditional advertising and more than half of all companies pursue a digital marketing strategy; this doesn’t take total spend into account, and instead focuses on which companies are pursuing which strategies.

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